Top 10 stunning modern buildings in China
Until the early 21st century, modern Chinese architecture consisted of homogeneous residential buildings and modest office buildings with white tile and blue glass facades. Now in the country, you can find some of the most unusual buildings in the world.
In the late 1990s, private developers in China massively acquired urban real estate, converting it into residential buildings, shopping centers, and office towers. Such a boom attracted architects from all over the world, and the careers of talented and ambitious Chinese designers took off. The results were terrific. And in some cases, stunningly bad, which is why China has been running the 10 Ugliest Buildings of the Year competition for 12 years. Nevertheless, the construction fever made it possible for the best architects on the planet to enjoy the freedom of creativity and considerable budgets to implement their ideas.
1. Beijing Daxing International Airport
Opening date: September 2019
Architect: Zaha Hadid
The vaulted ceilings, flowing shapes, and natural light of Daxing International Airport are a welcome breath of fresh air in architecture. As China prepared to overtake the United States as the world’s largest aviation market, the capital needed a new airport that could handle large volumes of traffic and become a symbolic gateway to Beijing.
Based on the principles of traditional Chinese architecture, the starfish design not only increases airport capacity but also shortens travel distances. Passengers can reach their gate in just eight minutes while enjoying bright interiors, shops, and cafes for all tastes.
Daxing Airport is also integrated into the environment. Design elements, including light filtering and sun protection, reduce the building’s overall energy consumption and carbon emissions by about 50%. The solar-powered airport has sophisticated heating, water supply, and rainwater harvesting system. This allows not only to reduce the carbon footprint but also to purify water from nearby ecosystems, prevent floods and manage the local microclimate.
2. CCTV headquarters
Opening date: 2012
Architect: Rem Koolhaas and Ole Sheren
The building’s unusual design comes from the battle for free space. Instead of the usual straight skyscraper, the towers form an eclectic shape of sharp angles and diagonals. This project results from a long-term collaboration between European and Chinese engineers to rethink the concept of a high-rise building.
Rem Koolhaas, one of the leading architects, has always wanted to create contradictory solutions for the viewer. When a person walks around a building, its shape changes depending on the viewing angle; to some extent, such a dynamic is a challenge to the architectural dogma about the purity of lines. Koolhaas defended the tower’s design after Xi Jinping criticized the construction of “strange buildings” in 2014.
3. Harbin Grand Theater
Opening date: 2015
Architect: Ma Yansong (马岩松)
Location: Harbin (Heilongjiang Province)
The Grand Theater of Harbin, located on the northern bank of the Sungari River, seems to be carved out of water and wind. This complex was built to house the city’s famous 100-year-old symphony orchestra. The theater can accommodate up to 2,000 spectators.
The building design is a real art. The façade of sleek white aluminum panels symbolizes the wilderness of a northern city with a cold climate. Inside, a high glass ceiling can be seen, followed by a warmly colored lobby with wood trim, creating a stark contrast to the icy exterior.”This is the cultural center of the future – a stunning venue for performances, as well as a public space that embodies the integration of man, art, city, and nature,” Chief Architect Ma Yansun explains his idea.
4. “The Great Bamboo Wall.”
Opening date: 2004
Architect: Kengo Kuma
Location: Beijing, Daxing District
The Great Bamboo Wall was commissioned by 10 Asian architects and is a small complex of residences hidden in the middle of a forest at the foot of the Great Wall of China. Zhang Xin (张欣) and Pan Shii (潘石屹) have developed designs that combine traditional Chinese architecture with Japanese spatial concepts to reflect the spirit and aesthetics of Eastern civilization. Bamboo structures also demonstrate the importance of being environmentally friendly.
Bamboo brought from China to Japan is a symbol of cultural exchange between the two countries. The delicate lines of the Great Bamboo Wall contrast with the solid stone of the Great Wall of China. “Once the Great Wall of China was used to separate the civilized world of China from the world of savages. But the “Great Bamboo Wall” will not create obstacles, allowing you to pass through it and indicating the connection between the two worlds,”- said the architects.
5. Eco-friendly Xiangxiang Boutique Hotel (香 箱 乡)
Opening Date: 2012
Architect: Tongheshanzhi Landscape Design Co
Location: Southwest Tourist Region Chenghuang, Changzhi county, Shanxi Province
This is the first hotel built from converted shipping containers. It was created as a joint project between the State Development and Reform Committee and China International Marine Containers from Dalian (Liaoning province), its largest container manufacturer.
The name of the hotel reflects three main design concepts. The first hieroglyph 香 (xiāng aroma, incense) personifies the hotel’s image and services and recalls the critical role of smell in the Confucian and Taoist traditions. The second hieroglyph 箱 (xiāng chest, box) denotes shipping containers converted into living quarters for visitors. The meaning of the third character 乡 (xiāng rural) refers to the project’s layout, which is borrowed from traditional gated courtyards in Shanxi province.
6. Factory for the production of bamboo rafts
Opening date: 2012-2013
Architect: Hua Li (华 黎), Trace Architecture Office
Location: Xingcun City, Wuyishan Mountains, Fujian Province
The Bamboo Raft Factory (武夷山 竹筏 育 制 场) is a warehouse and manufacturing facility that manufactures vehicles for the Nine Bends River (九曲溪) in the Wuyishan Mountains. The construction of the building is logical and straightforward, in which the architects skillfully combine form and purpose. The factory was designed to meet the functional, topographic, and climatic requirements of its location. The designers used concrete and natural materials, including wood and bamboo. Three buildings on the complex territory – a warehouse, a production workshop, and a dormitory with offices – are united by a central courtyard.
7. Liyang Museum
Opening Date: 2020
Architect: CROX Architects
Location: Liyang, Jiangsu Province
The Liyang Museum (溧阳 博物馆) – the symbol of Jiangsu province – is inspired by the culture and traditions of the region. The shape of the building is designed in the image of the seven-stringed zither, a Chinese musical instrument and one of the local cultural treasures. The museum has several entrances and open spaces, allowing visitors to move freely inside. The flowing shape symbolizes the openness of culture for each of the guests.
“From an Asian point of view, architecture is seen as one thing, so the key design idea was the connection between the inner and outer world, both visually and physically. Common space connects people, earth, and everything in the Universe,” the architects explain.
8. China Cultural Exhibition Center
Opening date: 2019
Architect: ECA2 & Tengyuan Design
Location: Lanzhou, Gansu Province
The China Cultural Exhibition Center is located near the Yellow River in Gansu Province in northwest China. Its split-vaulted façade mimics the hilly terrain of the region. The building is lined with fish scale panels, which echoes the design of local traditional buildings. Their layering is reminiscent of the construction techniques used in the ancient city of Hekou.When creating the project, the architects were inspired by the mythological story of Pan Gu, who made heaven and earth. The curved interior of the building symbolizes the chaos of the Universe, and the two shell-shaped roofs represent the wings of a sleeping bird that is about to take off. As the gaping “eye” on the gable vault gives viewers a view of the sky, the center’s design becomes part of his immersive multimedia projects.
9. Imperial Kiln Museum
Opening Date: 2020
Architect: Zhu Pei (朱 锫)
Location: Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province
The Imperial Kiln Museum (景德镇 御窑 博物馆) is made up of brick vaults that let in natural light. It became the first museum in China to display an archaeological restoration of imperial porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Jingdezhen is known as the world capital of porcelain because ceramics have been produced here for 1,700 years.
The museum is built with the same bricks used in much of the city’s traditional architecture. Small courtyards connect the inner and outer spaces to make it easy for visitors to explore porcelain artifacts and historic kilns.
10. Art Museum He Art Museum
Opening Date: 2021
Architect: Tadao Ando
Location: Foshan, Guangdong Province
The building was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando. The museum is funded by Midea Group Director He Jianfeng and is home to his family’s art collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Ellsworth Kelly, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
The museum’s design is intended to embody the concept of “round sky and flat, square Earth” from ancient Chinese cosmology. To this end, the layout combines the circular elements of the Lingnan culture of southern China and the square shapes of old buildings in the Central Plains.